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P.S. I Love You

The Story of the Singing Hilltoppers

Carlton Jackson

Publication Year: 2007

In 1953, the same year that Elvis Presley cut his first demo, Cash Box magazine named the Hilltoppers the top vocal group of the year. Hits such as “Trying” and “P.S. I Love You” raced up the charts and kept the group in Billboard’s Top 40. The four fresh-faced singers appeared on The Toast of the Town with Ed Sullivan, who introduced them to the nation. On weekends the Hilltoppers performed in cities across the country, but on Monday mornings they were better known as Western Kentucky State College students Jimmy Sacca, Seymour Spiegelman, Don McGuire, and Billy Vaughn. The Korean War, military drafts, and changing public tastes in music, however, cut short singing careers that should have lasted much longer. Sacca was drafted in 1953, mere months before the end of the war. Vaughn left the group shortly after that for a career at Dot Records and found fame elsewhere with his orchestra. McGuire and Spiegelman were drafted as well, and despite a set of temporary replacement members, the group eventually called it quits. Fifty years later, historian Carlton Jackson revisits the Kentucky college kids who made it big between classes. He follows the group from their first hit, recorded in Western’s Van Meter Auditorium, to their brief 1970s reunion. Their story recalls the nature of celebrity and youth in the early days of rock ’n’ roll.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. vii-viii

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The Hilltoppers: Two Appreciations

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pp. ix-xii

I was pleased to be asked by Carlton Jackson to write an introduction about Billy Vaughn and the Hilltoppers. I knew each of them personally, and we were classmates at Western Kentucky University together. I had known Billy Vaughn and played with his group before I met the other guys. ...

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pp. 1-8

My interest in the singing Hilltoppers goes back at least to 1986. I was at a social function one night, and Doc Livingston was in attendance. The conversation got off onto the Hilltoppers, and a guest remarked, “Somebody ought to write a book about them.” Doc pointed his finger straight at me and said, “Carlton, you write books. ...

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1. "Trying" Times

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pp. 9-28

Toast of the Town for October 26, 1952, was, as host Ed Sullivan always said, “a really big shew.” Headlining the event was veteran comedian and actor Joe E. Brown, who kept the audience chuckling by performing some vaudeville routines and playing doctor and nurse. ...

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2. A Gathering of the Hilltoppers

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pp. 29-50

In 1952, Bowling Green, Kentucky, was a sleepy little college town with some twenty thousand residents. Added to this number were the sixteen hundred or so students who attended Western Kentucky State College on top of the big hill.1 ...

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3. "Mixed-up" Hilltoppers

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pp. 51-74

One of the songs the Hilltoppers put “in the can” (that is, recorded to be released periodically) was a snappy little love song, “From the Vine Came the Grape.” It dealt with a lover being back with his girlfriend on the island of Capri. To the delight of listeners everywhere, ...

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4. "Blimey, We've Gone Limey"

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pp. 75-98

“You probably know that we’re leaving for England, and we really are looking forward to this trip,” the Hilltoppers wrote to the readers of that “wonderful journal,” the national fanzine Hilltopper Topics. “Only You” had almost gone off the charts in mid-1956 in England, where a few newspapers described it as a “rock ’n’ roll ballad.” ...

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5. Hilltopper Tops

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pp. 99-112

Here’s a “letter” that showed up in one of the Hilltoppers’ fanzines: ...

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6. The Hilltoppers at Home and Abroad

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pp. 113-132

If, as some reviewers had it, the Hilltoppers’ fortunes were declining in the late 1950s, the group paid scant attention to them. Their performance schedules for the period of March–December 1957 were nothing short of amazing. One of the first to realize how busy the group would be was Bobbie Ann Mason, the national president of the Hilltopper fan club. ...

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7. Latter-Day Hilltoppers

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pp. 133-156

The original Hilltoppers (Billy, Jimmy, Don, Seymour) may have gone their separate ways by 1963, but one place always remained common ground: Kentucky, particularly Bowling Green and the campus of Western. Each came back at every opportunity. ...

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pp. 157-158

Many people helped me to research and write this book, and I am grateful to each and every one of them. At Western Kentucky University, history department chair Richard Weigel read the manuscript and made helpful improvements. Department secretary Marsha Skipworth ...

Annotated Discography

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pp. 159-186


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pp. 187-204


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pp. 205-209


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pp. 210-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780813172224
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124360

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2007